If sales of engagement rings are any indication, a growing number of couples hunkered down in quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic are asking themselves: why not?
In Connecticut, jewelers say they’ve seen a noticeable spike in demand for engagement rings from mid-March to July compared with previous years.
For the first two months of quarantine — if things were going well — couples browsed online. In May, as jewelry and other retail stores opened under Gov. Lamont’s Phase 1 guidelines, future brides and grooms scouted in person.
At Lux, Bond & Green’s six retail locations in Connecticut and Massachusetts, co-owner John Green estimates his engagement ring business is up 25% from the same period last year.
“When we shut down in March, we got emails and an appointment requests,” John Green, co-owner of Lux, Bond & Green, said. “We made special appointments and lots of social distancing and masks and gloves and the whole business.”
As stores struggle to attract walk-in traffic — and while retail giants like J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney and Brooks Brothers file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection — a surge in ring sales represents a glimmering, gem-sized focal point across the state.
“Many couples are saying, ‘Who knows when we’re going to be able to get married, or maybe we’ll just do a small civil service, but let’s get engaged,‘” Green said. “They’ve talked about getting married, but in this generation, there’s no rush. Now, it’s like, ‘We’ve talked about it: why don’t we just do it?‘”
‘They really want to be married’
Soon after the shutdown, Margie Sneideman, a diamond advisor at Becker’s Diamonds & Fine Jewelry in West Hartford, said customers flocked to the store’s website to snoop around for the latest gem and setting styles.
When Becker’s stores in West Hartford and Old Saybrook stores reopened on May 23, waves of couples came looking for rings.
“Right away, I experienced an explosion in new clients, and mostly engagement ring traffic,” said Sneideman. “We thought, oh, a week or two or three, then wow, this is keeping up. Two months after we reopened, it’s the same story.”
Driven by the winter holidays and the approach of Valentine’s Day, December is typically the biggest sales month in the jewelry business, Sneideman said, with May and June — a popular month for weddings, and therefore anniversaries — next in line.
July tends to tick down slightly, but not so much this year, thanks to engagement ring sales.
“For us, the whole COVID quarantine situation has really caused people to shift,” Sneideman said. “No one can travel. They’re thinking about the really most important things in their lives, which is relationships and love. So I think it’s given people the kind of green light to maybe not wait till the fall and do it now.”
At Bill Selig Jewelers in Simsbury, overall sales in June were down roughly 40% from 2019, said owner Bill Selig, but engagement ring sales have been strong.
“Now that people are recognizing that most of the small retail stores are open and we’ve been had an opportunity to get the word out a little bit more, our business has been picking up pretty well, and a lot of it has to do with engagements,” Selig said.
Wedding band sales are also on the rise, Selig said, as couples scrap long-held plans plans for big receptions in favor of intimate backyard events.
“They’re going to postpone the big celebration with the big parties, but that they really want to be married,” Selig said. “People are making commitments to each other. Couples are really concerned about each other and the changes that are happening in the world because of COVID-19.”
Jeff Roseman, who owns David Harvey Jewelers Inc. in Norwalk and Darien, said a spike in engagement ring and other jewelry sales may simply be a by-product of his customers staying home this summer.
“The disposable income that we used to have to split is now going a little bit more towards the jeweler, which is nice,” Roseman said. “Are people saying this isn’t the time to put things off? I can get sentimental and say ‘life is short,’ and perhaps people are just doing what they planned to do a little sooner. I don’t have an answer, but I have given it some some thought.”
The ‘covid couple’
Romantic partners living together for months — perhaps for the first time — under quarantine conditions, with little or no other human interaction, are likely getting to know each other in ways not previously experienced, resulting in a sort of relationship “make or break” crisis.
Melissa Whitson, Ph.D., an associate professor in psychology at the University of New Haven, said trauma and social isolation often leads to couples needing to feel more attached, both within and outside a romantic relationship.
“Becoming engaged or getting married gives people the ultimate source of feeling connected,” Whitson said.
These days, feelings of danger and loss of control, fight-or-flight responses and other psychological reactions are common. In a practical sense, couples may worry that one person will become sick and a non-married partner will be denied a hospital visit.
And as economic instability grows in Connecticut — the state’s economy shrunk by 4.6% in the first quarter of 2020, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis — access to a fiancee’s revenue, healthcare benefits and housing may be on the minds of newly engaged couples.
Still, the “covid couple” era cuts both ways; married-with-children unions, Whitson said, are likely going through new and formidable relationship challenges.
“There is a hardiness to married couples who have been together for a long time, but if they haven’t been home together this much, and if they have kids and are navigating that situation, it brings up a number of stressors they’ve been previously able to avoid,” Whitson said.
To younger couples, some of this still feels “new and exciting,” Whitson said, “but it can also expose any sort of fragile foundation, so maybe it would be good to know that now.”
For Shanley McClave and Keith Archer, a couple who lives in Barkhamsted, the pandemic actually delayed their engagement.
Archer, McClave said, bought an engagement ring in December and planned to propose in the spring, but travel restrictions during the pandemic pushed it off to this past weekend.
“He wanted to make it more special than just in our backyard kind of thing. And during the pandemic, we haven’t been able to really go anywhere,” McClave said.
On Sunday, Archer proposed to McClave at her family’s condo in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. It was the couple’s three-year anniversary.
“My family has a memory bench for my aunt and my grandfather, who have both passed away,” McClave said. “It’s such a special spot to our family. We used to have family live football games on the field and it overlooks the ski mountain, just a really nice place.”
Thousands of weddings postponed to 2021
During the pandemic, the wedding industry in Connecticut and elsewhere has been hit hard by venue cancellations, size restrictions and other obstacles, as couples scramble to retrieve deposits on everything from photography to honeymoon airline tickets.
In Glastonbury, requests for marriage licenses shrunk from 46 in June and July 2019 to 32 over the same period this year, according to the Town Clerk.
Kia Martinson, owner of Engaged Connecticut, a West Hartford wedding planning business, estimates that out of the 14,000 weddings that typically take place in Connecticut over the course of a year, 10,000 or so have been postponed until 2021.
As a result, couples getting engaged right now might have trouble booking a venue or signing on for various services for next year.
“A lot of couples are shocked to find out that there are no dates available or are a little bit hesitant to put any money down, not knowing what the future is,” Martinson said. “Vendors are a little bit cautious, just because we don’t know. We have to change all of our contracts, and we don’t exactly know what’s the next step, even though everybody’s really working really well together, trying to make it as smooth of a interaction as it possibly can be.”
Heidi Hanson, who owns Pop Up Wedding in Fairfield, said the bulk of her business right now involves working with “covid couples” who don’t want to push off nuptial plans for another year. Along with the rise of backyard weddings, Hanson said she’s also seen in increase of elopements.
“They still want to keep their day as close as possible, and they’re ready to get on with their lives,” Hanson said. “They’re ready to celebrate. They’re ready to buy a house and have children. … They’re ready to say ‘I do’ and move on.”
Amanda Sue Gyurik, a Middlebury photographer, said that while wedding sessions have decreased during the pandemic, engagement photography sessions and elopement-style wedding shoots are on the rise.
“The elopement thing is huge,” Gyurik said. “I’m just doing small, intimate engagements in a moment. I make just as much money. People might have, like, the brother stand up for them. The days of eight bridesmaids and eight groomsmen: that seems like something that’s not going on lately.”
Michael Hamad can be reached at [email protected]
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